All entries for Thursday 23 November 2006

November 23, 2006

Open Studies in European Cinema. Nazi Box Office Figures

Nazi Period Facts and Figures

Table 1

Year< > Number of Cinemas< >Number of admissions (millions)
1933…................ 5,071…................................245
1934…................ 4,889…................................259
1935…................ 4,782…................................303
*1936…...............5,259…................................362
1937….................5,302…................................396
1938….................5,446…................................442
*1939…...............6,923…................................624
1940….................7,018…................................834
1941….................7,043…................................892
1942….................7.042…..............................1,062
1943….................6,561…..............................1.,116
1944 …................6,484…..............................1,101

Table derived from Rentchsler, 1996 p 13. Originally sourced from Prinzler, Chronik des deutschen Films 1895-1994. Stuttgart, 1995.

On these figures it can be seen that during the first two years of Nazi rule the number of screens was reduced in the first year at the rate of nearly one per day and during the second year by approximately one every three days. At the same time that there were closures the numbers of cinema-goers rose steadily every year peaking in 1943. In 1943 the peak of audiences was accompanied by the first contraction in the number of cinemas since 1936 and falling to fewer cinemas than in 1939. This trend can clearly be put down to wartime conditions changing dramatically with RAF air raids beginning to make a real impact on cities from early in 1943.

Table 2: German box-office statistics, 1929-1939

Year< >Number of Tickets sold < >Gross Income (million RM)
1929….....................328…....................................273
1930….....................290…....................................244
1931….....................273…....................................197
1932….....................238…....................................176
1933….....................245…....................................117
1934….....................259…....................................195
1935….....................304*.....................................231
1936….....................362…....................................282
1937….....................396…....................................309
1938….....................430*.....................................335
1939….....................624…....................................411

Table derived from Rentschler, 1996 p105. Originally sourced from Traub ed. Die Ufa. Ein Beitrag zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des deutschen ilmschaffens. Berlin: Ufa-Buchverlag, p 156.

Numbers with a * against them denote a discrepancy with table 1. This amounts to a difference of 12 million tickets sold in 1938.

Table 3: Foreign feature films exhibited in the Third Reich

Year/All features/German features/% of all features /Total US/ Total foreign
1933…206….......114…............................55.3….............64….....92
1934…210….......129…............................61.4….............41….....81
1935…188….........92…............................48.9….............41….....96
1936…176….......112…............................63.6….............28….....64
1937…172….........94…............................54.7….............39….....78
1938…162….......100…............................61.7….............35….....62
1939…145…........111…...........................76.6….............20….....34
1940…103….........85….............................82…................5…......18
1941…. 81….........67….............................82.7--------—-0….......14
1942…..87….........57….............................65.5--------—-0….......30
1943…101….........78….............................77.2--------—-0….......23
1944…..77….........64….............................83.2--------—-0….......13

Derived from Rentschler, 1996, p106. Sourced from Boguslaw, Drewniak, deutsche Film 1938-1945. Ein Gesamptuberblick. Dusseldorf: Droste, 1987, p 814.

Analysis of the Statistics

In 1933 the numbers of tickets sold were higher than in 1932 by 7 million yet the gross income fell by 59 million Reichmarks. The reason is that possibly prices of cinema tickets are being lowered to keep audience share furthermore more people were being employed by the state on infrastructure projects thus beginning to stimulate the economy.

1934 shows that there were 82 fewer cinemas with 14 million more tickets being sold. This was the first full year the Nazis were in power. During this year more German made features were exhibited than during any other year of the Nazi regime.

The figures for 1934 show a contraction in production of the number of German films with US imports at their highest level during the Nazi period. It would appear that there was a focus upon making better quality productions and fewer films.

It was only in 1936 that box office sales finally increased over the 1929 figures despite the end of 1929 seeing the beginning of the economic depression. Furthermore the box office taking were 280 million RM compared with the 1929 273 million RM. The number of tickets sold were 362 million and 328 million respectively. On theses figures this means that 32 million more tickets were sold in 1936 which netted only another 7 million RM. This clearly indicates that tickets were cheaper in the first few years of the Nazi regime.

The discrepancy between cinema going numbers and income shows that the Nazi regime was not running cinema as a pure business venture as suggested by some commentators. Given that there were many popular entertainment films produced there seems to be a strong element of ‘bread & circuses’ involved.

We can also see that there was a considerable expansion in the number of cinemas with nearly two hundred more than in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. When we combine the audience figures with the expansion of cinema numbers with the fact that the Nazis paid quite a number of overseas ‘stars’ inflated rates of pay to keep them on board then it is clear that ideological concerns were the main priority for the film industry and entertainment was linked to this.

1939, the year the war started, there were over 1,500 more cinemas than in 1938. The number of admissions went up considerably there is a discrepancy between the figures by 178 million on the lowest estimate however there were only 11 more feature films made than in 1938.

These figures raise a number of questions: Who developed these cinemas? Where were they? Were they in areas that had previously had no local cinema? Does this provide us with an indicator of Nazi preparations for war? Does the start of the war mean that many people flocked to the cinemas to see the newsreels rather than the feature films in order to get news of the opening months of the war? If that is the case how might this information be utilised regarding theories of propaganda?

Throughout the period of the war the average percentage of German feature films being screened was well above 70%.

During the war the statistics show that the number of feature films being made in Germany dropped considerably. At the same time there were more foreign features being shown in Germany. We don’t know from the statistics where these were made. Some were certainly from Continental films the German controlled film production company based in Paris. Quite possibly some were from Vichy France.


Metropolis: The Different 1927 Release Versions

The story of the different versions of Metropolis which originally existed is a little tortuous. The version being shown on the course is the version which is currently closest to the version originally shown in Berlin on January 10th 1927. Nevertheless it is approximately 1,000 metres of film or 20% shorter than this original version.

There is some evidence which suggests that Fritz Lang shot three complete negatives whilst making the film. This was so that a version could be sent to America for release according to the Paramount / UFA ‘Parafument’ deal. A version was kept for the domestic market and a version for the rest of the world outside the USA where UFA had sole distribution rights. This article reviews this in the light of the versions available today.

The Original Version and the German Re-Release Versions

The World premiere of Metropolis took place on January 10th 1927 at the UFA Palast am Zoo. There were 1,200 important spectators present including Ministers and deputies of the Reichstag, foreign ambassadors and even royalty. Some were invited guests who were presented with a pigskin bound volume of the original novel by Thea von Harbou, Lang’s wife and writer of the film’s screenplay. The running time of the film was three hours with a short break in the middle. Whilst there were standing ovations for cast and crew the reviews were mixed.

The film was immediately shifted to the UFA-Pavilion where it played for 16 weeks however box-office takings were disappointing and the film was pulled in April going on general release in a much revised forming August. This re-release was cut by nearly 20% and was cut in ways very similar to the version that was eventually released in America although this was even shorter.

A problem for trying to reconstruct the film in its original release form is that the general release version was cut from the original negative and failed to preserve these 1,000 metres of film which notes Elsaesser contained several of the scenes most admired on the opening night.

The US Version

In December the American print had been taken to America. The Paramount executives were distinctly under-whelmed. The film had no stars which was a key selling point for Hollywood, neither was the storyline comprehensible to their audiences. For Hollywood the narrative needed to be constructed in a way which American audiences would be familiar with. Even in terms of genres Metropolis didn’t quite fit. Furthermore the screening time of 2.5 hours was well outside the standard screening schedule. As a result the film was cut from 2.5 hours to 1.75 hours which was nearly a quarter of the footage.

Paramount employed a playwright called Channing Pollock to re-write the continuity and the intertitles. From this version another slightly different version was cut for Britain and the British Empire. Channing Pollock changed the meaning considerably. Aspects of the story such as Freder having minders and helpers undermining themes of surveillance and solidarity almost totally removed. The focus on visual meaning which Lang had created was subordinated to the more linear narrative structure. Pollock defended his approach:

As it stood when I began my job of structural re-editing Metropolis had no restraint or logic. It was symbolism run such riot that people who saw it couldn’t tell what the picture was all about. I have given it my meaning. (My emphasis).

This shows that there were different cultural approaches to the making of meaning and that the notion of an ‘original’ version runs into difficulties. Only relatively few people have ever seen the version favoured by Lang. This happened during those first few weeks of its opening run in Berlin. There is more exploration of this in Different Ways of Making Meaning: The Case of Metropolis.


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